In fact, the best circumstances for winning a referendum are when:
- There’s a public lead for an ‘in’ vote, even without an ‘if there is a renegotiation’ caveat (which always leads to a big swing in favour of ‘in’).
- The Conservative Party has a leader who will campaign for an ‘in’ vote.
- The economy is growing (as support for ‘in’ and prosperity are linked).
- When the referendum is called with the support of, rather than reluctant acquiescence by, the side we want to win.
If David Cameron is still the Prime Minister after the general election, that set of four will most likely all be met by having a referendum during the next Parliament.
Moreover, as I wrote in Liberal Democrat Newswire #60:
Depending on the maths and state of party leaderships it may well be the case that Lib Dems refusing to deal on a referendum doesn’t stop it happening. How many Labour backbenchers, possibly emboldened by Ukip’s vote share and Miliband’s failure to win an overall majority, would rebel and back a referendum, for example, and how many DUP and other votes would be won over by the Tories? Lib Dems refusing a deal because it involves a referendum only to see a referendum happen anyway would be the sort of Pyrrhic political stand that rehabilitates the virtues of pragmatism.